The Trouble With Frames

Frames per second, how many drawings? These two questions stumped me for the longest and for the longest they have been a barrier for me in regards to animation. When I first started off with learning animation, like most I had it stuck in my mind 24 frames per second. That is true there are 24-30 frames used in a second of animation. What, up until recently was getting me into trouble was how many drawings I needed. To some reading, this probably sounds pretty clear. Of course, you need 24 drawings right; one for each frame? Well yes and no, it comes down to things like budget, studio, and style. Let’s talk about some dissension.

Disney, they are the standard as far a technical approach. Their animation is done on (1’s) which means that there is a drawing on every frame. Now the what’s important to remember is that not all drawing in these 24 seconds are created equal and some drawings are more important, (Golden/Storytelling Poses) are at the top of the list of importance, Key Frames, are next, followed by breakdowns and in-betweens. For the most part, in-betweens should only be needed to smooth out actions. An example would be slowing into and out of a moving hold. Animating on ones is primary for Feature Film Animation, and when you are merging 2D and live action. Examples would be Mary Poppins, Cool World, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Space Jam. Since Disney goes for a naturalist approach for their animation style, they employ the use of one’s smoothness and fluidity.

Television animation and this is not a rule but primarily works on two’s. That means that each frame is held on screen for (2) frames and thus you cut the drawings from 24 to 12 in a production setting. Can you still get smooth and fluid animation working with two’s? Yes, absolutely, but working on two’s is the application of techniques like line blurs, and smears (these techniques can be used in feature film animation as well); Space Jam uses both these techniques as it adheres to both the Warner Bro’s style and feature film animation techniques. Warner brothers are and more directly Looney-Tunes are the best-known examples of television animation and animating on two’s and the use of smears, blur lines and the plethora of other tricks it takes to make an animation with a limited budget and time. Two’s also produced a very snappy and direct quality that lends itself to a more comedic approach. More modern examples of two’s are The Simpsons and Family Guy. While the snappy Warner Bro’s feeling isn’t directly evident you can see the use of limited animation on two’s. A good example of how each character in the show expresses an emphasis on a word or phrase by opening their hands then closing them when the important part of the line if over. Now the extent to which they do this determines character mood, line importance, and emotion of the scene. By uses, these hand gestures the audience can understand what the character is trying to say and stay within the budget. This can also be described as acting, which a good animator will do in breakdowns but that’s a topic for another day. To get back on topic animating on two’s is in most cases used for television animation.

Animating on three’s, now that is not a style I am 100% sure about so I will not speak on the subject as I have never animated on anything but one’s and two’s. From my limited understanding Anime is animated on three’s primarily. Which is why on one hand you get an animation that feels choppy and broken, but you also get beautiful animation cells.

To clear things up, these are all not direct rules, and animation, whether it is a feature film, television, or anime can switch styles depending on the director, production, and budget. All animations style will use variations of these frame principles to achieve the desired effect for the production. In general, from a production view, that is how animation is done when it comes to frames per second. How many drawings/frames you need as you all know comes down to your character. Who